As another hurricane season approaches, a quote often attributed to the noted humorist, satirist, lecturer, and writer, Mark Twain, comes to mind: "Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it." Clearly, we have not mastered control of nature's climatic forces. Yet, approaches for managing the impacts of weather are available to us and are constantly evolving and improving.
In the wake of hurricanes Katrina and Rita, local governments have stepped up their efforts to develop and implement more effective emergency management solutions, all of which rely on sophisticated mutual aid networks and partnerships, not only among first responders but throughout all functions of local government and across all phases of a disaster.
ICMA's members have been at the forefront of that discussion and have advocated for the development of a network approach to emergency management to answer the challenge of identifying the vast resource of experienced local government professionals that can be certified, trained, accessed, and deployed as part of teams that can respond to any of the four phases of disaster situations: preparation, response, recovery, and long-term restoration.
The need for improvement in emergency management is urgent as more and more people locate to disaster-prone areas (1) and the impacts of disasters continue to increase. (2) Long-term recovery needs are especially acute. After a disaster and after the rescue personnel have finished their tasks and the camera crews have left town, the difficult path to community restoration begins.
The restoration burden falls on the shoulders of local government personnel and often requires unsustainably long hours on the job for extended periods of time and demands that staff fulfill challenging new responsibilities. In many cases, local government personnel are also trying to put their own personal lives, homes, and families back together. In situations such as these, the long-term professional and personal hardships can lead to reduced effectiveness and loss of staff and resources and can result in a slower recovery.
Surveys and other research conducted by ICMA during the past several years indicate that an interoperable multijurisdictional and multidisciplinary network approach is vital for increasing the nation's disaster resiliency and the effectiveness of emergency response and long-term restoration. The key question: Is this approach able to improve disaster management and mitigate the challenges of response through long-term recovery? The answer is undoubtedly yes.
A network-centered approach has the flexibility to move human and physical assets where they need to be, when they need to be there. This approach represents an evolution from traditional command and control to a network of local governments organized into multijurisdictional, multidisciplinary teams composed of the human and physical assets required for all disaster phases.
Teams include the immediate response resources of fire, police, search and rescue, public works, and emergency medical services, along with the full complement of resources and disciplines needed to help communities through recovery, including management, finance, building inspectors, information technology, and public information specialists. Teams can be formed among multiple jurisdictions and prepared for deployment within or across state boundaries.
A network approach requires certain fundamental elements, including:
* Establishing teams and developing relationships among key team members before an emergency.
* Identifying other resources to support the teams (state emergency and Emergency Management Assistance Compact [EMAC] responsible staff, Federal Emergency Management Agency [FEMA], nonprofit organizations, and businesses).
* Defining and documenting team member's roles and credentials.
* Providing opportunities for teams to train and practice together.
* Providing the technology, such as that available from the National Emergency Management Network (NEMN) to support all team efforts such as cataloging, tracking, sharing, and deploying of assets; configuring teams and credentialing; and geo-mapping that can be collaborative for exercises and real-time events. The technology provided through NEMN includes an Internet-based inventory of emergency response and recovery and remediation resources and credentialed expertise (both human and physical assets) and a feature-rich geo-mapping, situational awareness, and asset-tracking tool for incident response and catastrophic-event planning.
* Having mechanisms in place to sustain and improve the network over time.
Why does this solution make sense?
Local governments have the ultimate responsibility for the health, safety, and welfare of their communities and citizens, including disaster preparedness, response, recovery, and restoration. Local governments have gained much of the human expertise and physical resources required to manage each of these responsibilities. Furthermore, to support their individual efforts, local government officials have a longstanding tradition of mutual aid through formal agreements (for police and fire) and such informal relationships as peer assistance.
The network approach builds on these agreements and relationships, as well as on EMAC to ensure that teams can be deployed quickly after disaster strikes and are available for long-term restoration.
Variations on the network approach described here have been tried and proved successful among jurisdictions. During the past two years, for example, ICMA has facilitated critical local government support through a network-centered approach and peer assistance program called Gulf Coast Peer Assistance Program, which is supported by Fannie Mae.
Disaster-impacted communities have received assistance provided through ICMA's comprehensive membership of city and county managers as well as through partnerships with ICMA's sister organizations that support local governments. Through this initial effort, networks of local government teams have successfully provided more than six critical missions to assist Mississippi Gulf Coast communities, including Pascagoula, Pass Christian, and Moss Point.
Working with the Florida, Virginia, and South Carolina city and county managers' associations and states' emergency offices via EMAC, rotations of local government personnel and equipment from such local governments as Port Orange and Palm Bay, Florida; Myrtle Beach and Georgetown County, South Carolina; and Dumfries, Virginia, helped the Mississippi cities with key governance recovery functions like planning and grant writing, code enforcement, public relations, public works, administration, and executive management support.
Kay Kell, city manager, Pascagoula, Mississippi, who was a recipient of help from neighboring jurisdictions after the Gulf Coast storms and is now a big fan of the network approach, remarks that "the assistance received from the program in the missions both for this year and last has been a tremendous help."
The communities providing assistance also benefited through this approach by using the experience as a training exercise to uncover inadequacies, strengthen city and county emergency management and recovery plans, and establish personal networks for future events and crises. According to Tom Leath, city manager, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, "We view these missions as not only assisting fellow local governments, but also as training exercises. We have prepared for and recovered from some pretty nasty storm events, but we have never faced the devastation brought by Andrew and Katrina."
Other examples of this approach include:
* North Central Texas Multiagency Coordination Center (MACC)--a regional organization whose main purpose is to support local governments with the use of resources that may be provided by other local governments in the event of a catastrophic event that occurs within the North Central Texas Council of Governments region.
* Florida Recovery Partnerships--a program designed by the Florida City and County Management Association (FCCMA) to create emergency disaster partnerships or strike teams across the state. The FCCMA program has been designed to complement and facilitate the assistance offered by FEMA and others.
* Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments Regional Emergency Coordination Plan (RECP)--a vehicle for collaboration in planning, communication, information sharing, and coordination of activities before, during, or after a regional emergency for the 19 Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments member governments, the state of Maryland, the commonwealth of Virginia, the federal government, the public agencies, the private sector and volunteer organizations, and local schools and universities.
* Water and Wastewater Agency Response Network (WARN)--a network of utilities helping other utilities to respond to and recover from emergencies. The purpose of a WARN is to provide a method whereby water and wastewater utilities that have sustained or anticipate damages from natural or human-caused incidents can provide and receive emergency aid and assistance from other water and wastewater utilities in the form of personnel, equipment, materials, and other associated services as necessary. The objective is to provide rapid, short-term deployment of emergency services to restore the critical operations of the affected water or wastewater utility.
So, although Mark Twain's words remain true today, the network approach can:
1. Answer to the challenge of identifying the vast resource of experienced local government professionals who can be certified, trained, accessed, and deployed as part of teams to respond to any or all of the four phases of an emergency: preparedness, response, recovery, and restoration.
2. Provide the mechanism to form preapproved and established strike teams or "city halls in a box," which are resilient enough for both short-and long-term deployments and support and are flexible enough to respond to particular needs as the situation warrants.
3. Expand mutual aid to encompass the full spectrum of local government resources.
4. Strengthen local government collaboration and information-sharing capabilities in cooperation with their federal and state colleagues and the private and nonprofit sectors.
5. Create a resilient emergency management model.
(1) "Risk Analysis Reports over Half of World's Population Exposed to One or More Major Natural Hazards," Earth Institute News, March 29, 2005, www.earth.columbia.edu/news/2005/story03-29-05.html.
(2) Arjun Katoch, "The Responders' Cauldron: The Uniqueness of International Disaster Response," Journal of Interantional Affairs 59, no. 2 (Spring/Summer 2006): 153-172.
National Emergency Management Network (NEMN)
The NEMN supports the network approach through education, advocacy, and training. It offers local governments the opportunity to improve emergency preparedness, response, and recovery through enhanced mutual aid networks--both human-based and technology-based networks. For more information, call 866/460-NEMN (6366);Web site, www.nemn.net.
A Believer in the Network Approach
Kay Kell, city manager, Pascagoula, Mississippi, who was a recipient of help from neighboring jurisdictions after the Gulf Coast storms and is now a big fan of the network approach, says that "the assistance received from the program in the missions both for this year and last has been a tremendous help."
--Bob O'Neill, ICMA-CM
Executive Director ICMA Washington, D.C.